The people of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) have found loopholes in Pakistan’s reaction to India revoking Articles 370 and 35A of its constitution, underlining similar violations of Islamabad in the region. The locals in the Pakistan-administered territory, which is a part of the longstanding Kashmir dispute, noted that the State Subject Rule and special status that India has scrapped in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) had been repealed in GB decades ago.
The locals emphasised that despite Pakistan’s outcry over India’s move on Kashmir, Islamabad revoked the State Subject Rule in 1974. Locals believe that India’s move could damage Pakistan’s position should a future referendum be held on Kashmir in accordance with the United Nations Security Council’s Resolution.
The Chairman of the Awami Action Committee (AAC) Sultan Raees believes the State Subject Rule shouldn’t have been abolished in India or Pakistan. “Pakistani leaders and their wrong policies gave India the opportunity to do the same thing that had been done in Pakistan in the 70s. You can’t ask India to undo its move, without resuming State Subject Rule in Pakistan,” he told 101Reporters.
He added that there are more people from other parts of Pakistan than locals in GB and that pushed India into preparing for the referendum.
Fight for recognition
The resentment among the locals has been growing in recent years, as the people of the region seek the rights that they’ve long been deprived of.
The fight for recognition has been ongoing since partition when GB was a part of J&K and was claimed by both Pakistan and India. In 1949, the Karachi Agreement was signed between the governments of Pakistan and Azad Kashmir (in Pakistan-administered Kashmir) giving Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) control over GB. The agreement did not have any representation from GB.
The territory that had been governed by the Frontier Crimes Regulation, and known simply as Northern Areas till 2009, was given some hope with the passing of Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self Governance Order that year as the region got its name and the first legislative assembly.
Last year, Pakistan introduced the latest set of laws for the region through the Gilgit-Baltistan Order, 2018, which was condemned by locals and opposition parties, including the AAC, as ‘authoritarian’.
The GB Order gave the Pakistan PM veto power in the region and was condemned by the locals who are finding it increasingly hard to support Islamabad’s position on Kashmir.
Sultan Raees said the AAC has asked the Pakistan government to make GB a part of the Pakistani Constitution, now that there isn’t the state subject rule anyway.
The mainstreaming of GB into Pakistan as the fifth province has also been pushed by Beijing, given that the $62 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) passes through GB. However, separatists in J&K have warned Islamabad against such a move, with Pakistani leaders also maintaining that it could damage the state’s position over the Kashmir dispute.
Last year, the Supreme Court of Pakistan extended its jurisdiction to GB ruling that “no change can be made” in the status of the territory.
Restore special status: Locals
Locals argue that for Pakistan to maintain its position over the Kashmir dispute it would need to reinstate the special status in Gilgit-Baltistan.
“The special status of GB was revoked even though we were attached to the Kashmir issue. The special status should be reinstated in both India and Pakistan. Locals are saying that Pakistan is crying for those areas that aren’t even in its control but has kept its own areas deprived [of rights],” said activist Shabir Husain, who is a part of the Gilgit Baltistan Awareness Forum (GBAF).
“We’ve planned programmes in GB, but given the turmoil with India, we don’t want to take any steps that might be interpreted as blackmailing Pakistan,” added Husain, who maintains that social media has created a lot of awareness among the locals, with the GBAF further reaching out to the masses to ensure that the rights movement continues to grow.
He stated that they don’t want to exploit the tension. However, they will continue to strive for their rights and raise the issue at an appropriate time.
Senge Hasnan Sering, the president of the Washington-based Institute for Gilgit-Baltistan Studies, believes India’s move in Jammu & Kashmir has provided the perfect excuse for the people of GB to highlight violations in the region.
“Pakistan’s regimes started State Subject Rule violations in the 1950s which hasn’t stopped since then. Today, the locals are on the verge of becoming a minority in cities like Gilgit, which is also the capital of the territory. In recent years, the influx of Pakistanis has been observed in Gahkuch, Diamer, Skardu and even in valleys along the Indian border like Ghanche. So the locals are pointing to Pakistan’s double standards of expecting India to uphold something they themselves violate in GB,” Sering told 101Reporters.
“People of GB have accepted that first, their territory is not a part of Pakistan, and secondly, it is linked with J&K. There is a fresh appeal to the political groups of AJK and GB to establish a unified platform and Pakistani establishment does not seem opposed to it,” he added.
Even though the local rights group maintains that it has no intention of clashing with the state or the establishment, especially since its struggle is for integration into Pakistan, many argue that resentment could boil over.
Sultan Raees said a major uprising, which could affect the CPEC, could take place in the region in a few months as the locals are unhappy.
KK Shahid is a Lahore-based freelance writer and a member of
101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.